Sunday, 26 June 2016

Creating a casting method

At this point in time, or probably even earlier, you may be asking what this site is all about. Yes, I gave a brief explanation in the About  page but the fundamental problem still remains: is there any real need of so many methods for casting hexagrams? What is needed to create a new method? And, most importantly, why should anyone do it?

We all know (having tested it on the field) that the meaningfulness and the accuracy of I Ching responses do not depend on the method used but only on the ability to relate the question to the response. That's why formulating a good question is so important.

However, I believe, the hexagram casting process plays a key role in setting the right mindset which will lead to a successful interpreation. The problem is that what works for some, may not work for others. The long process of using yarrow stalks puts people in a right medadite state, they say, but for others the long time needed is distracting; their minds keep wandering making them unable to focus on the  question. The instantaneous response of a computer program can be a striking revelation for some, but may look cheap and impersonal to others. As always happens, no size fits all and the many existing methods are there to prove that many people tried to find their own way to connect to the I Ching.

What follows are just ideas that, I hope, could motivate anyone who feels uneasy with their current casting method to create their personal casting method to better fits their needs. Should this ever happen, I would declare full success for my efforts.

Why creating a new method?

I think there at least two key aspects:
  • Practicality: you may want to be able to cast I Ching hexagrams in a small space (e.g. a plane seat) or making no noise, or using as least objects as possible, or making it with as few passages as possible, etc.;
  • Connection: you may want to use a set of objects that have a special meaning to you. They may be something from a beloved person or something that reminds you of an important place or time. Or they just make you feel more inclined to hear what the I Ching has to say to you.
I would add a third one that is important to me: aesthetic. It can be something pleasant to the touch or to the eye; something mathematically elegant or uttely chaothic. Whatever appeals to your own sense of beauty.

As a motivation, making money from patenting and selling a casting method may seems appealing but, looking back, many already tried and failed to become rich this way.

How to create a new method? 

These are the three requirements I feel important for any new casting methods:
  1. Each one of the 64 hexagram should be possible in the response.
  2. The 64 hexagrams should all be equiprobable in the response.
  3. Each one of the 4096 possible outcomes (considering the moving linese) should be possible.
Only the requirement 1 is absolutely critical: a method that would rule out a group of hexagrams (say, all those whose second line is yin) would seem just plainly wrong to me.

Requirements 1 and 2 would be fullfilled by any method which assigns to each line the same probability of being yin or yang.

You may note that I refered to the method  probabilities to determine which requirements are more important. This reflects my view that randomness play a key role in the casting process as it determines the relevance of certain aspects (e.g. the number of moving lines) over other.
If you feel that randomness does not play such a key role you can determine which requirements are more important to you.

During the creation steps you will go through the following steps (not necessarily in this order)
  • Choose which objects to use and count the events you can generate with them;
  • Decide on a probability distribution;
  • Define a process to combine/manipulate the objects that will generate the hexagram lines with the desired probability.
As illustrated in the image below, you will probably move from one step to another refiing the method.

Let's go through a full example: the creatione of the one card method.

In this case the need was to have something very portable to tuck into my pocket copy of the I Ching and a single card seemed to be the right choice.
Let's examine our object: a card has two sides (front and back) and two possible orientations (up and down). This means that if we, during the process, rotate and turn the card multiple times we can generate four possible events as the card may end up showing:
  • front side/upward
  • front side/downward
  • back side/upward
  • front side/downward
We could also reduce the number of events, for example we could limit ourselves to only two possible events by having the back of the card to be neutral (like in the regular playing cards) and only considering the orientation. Or by not considering the orientation at all and only considering wether the front or the back face is showing.

Now, if we wanted to mimic the three coins method probabilities ( 1/8 ) we would need to combine at least two operation with the card so to have 16 possible events (4*4).

It is important that the association between the outcomes and the lines are as simple as possible, the users should not be forced to memorize too many things. For example the three coins method requires the user to remember just one things: which side is 2 (the other being 3), the sixteen marbles method requires the user to remember four things: the association between each color and the line types.

That said, for a one card (our object) method with the same probabilities as the three coins method, we need 8 events that we could by combining two operation in the process:
  • The first operation will give yin or yang (e.g by using front/back of the card): 1/2;
  • The second operation will tell if it's a moving line by considering which of the four possible outcomes happened: 1/4.
For the first point we could mark the front of the card with a yang line and the back; for the second point we can mark one of the corner of the front face (e.g. the upper left one) with a dot so we will be able to tell the orientation:
  • front/up → dot in the upper left corner
  • front/down → dot in the lower right corner
  • back/up → no dot visible
  • back/down → no dot visible
we can not tell the two last event apart but we don't really need it. Just being able to identify one of the events (front/up) is enough for our needs.
Here is a possible design for the card:

that you can use with this process:
  1. Without looking, flip, turn and rotate the card.
  2. When you feel it's the right time look at the card
  3. Draw the line you see on the card
  4. Again, without looking, flip, turn and rotate the card.
  5. When you feel it's the right time look at the card
  6. If you see a red circle on the upper left corner of the card, it's a moving line.
And that is done, you can start testing the new method.

Howewer you can start thinking about siimplifying the process considering that many other methods assing the same probabilities to each line. So you can think about modifying the card (your object) to make it possible to generate a line with a single operation:

Now you can define a new process for casting lines:
  1. Without looking, flip, turn and rotate the card.
  2. When you feel it's the right time look at the card
  3. Draw the line you see on the card
  4. If you see a red symbol on the upper left corner of the card, it's a moving line.
Pretty easy, right?

I won't go into the details needed to define a process that would give the yarrow stalks probabilities, you can see how it is done in the one card method that I published already.

There you will also see how I tried to add some image to make it look better. I used some free clipart, a design from a real artist would have made the card 100 times better.

This is just a simple example. Do not hesitate to contact me if you want any more detail.

What about rituals?

Being a very rational person, I feel rather uneasy discussing this topic. Personally, I do not follow any type of ritual. To me the I Ching is a possibility multiplier, an uncertainty machine, a mirror which reflects my self  I don't feel the need for any ritual in the casting process.
However, I know that rituals are important for many people. They help focusing, they provide additional (sometimes deeper) meaning to the whole process.
Unforunately I have no suggestion about them. I've read many suggestions like: using linen cloths to protect the I Ching book, consacrating (whatever it means) the objects used for casting, point toward East, keeping everything at eye level, etc.
My only advice about this is to experiment: find what it works best for you; everything that helps you focusing better, interpreting the response better, etc. it's, by definition, good.  And you may want to ask the I Ching himself for advice about how good rituals are for you.



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